Facing eviction: Displaced urban women at increased risk
Tenure insecurity, the fear of forced eviction, is a harsh reality for many who are internally displaced in urban areas, especially women. Guest bloggers Laura Cunial, Information Counselling and Legal Assistance (ICLA) Adviser and Kirstie Farmer, Housing Land and Property Advocacy Adviser for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) discuss the daily struggles of displaced women in urban areas.
Threat of eviction is a daily struggle
For internally displaced people (IDPs) living in informal settlements and sharing overcrowded low-quality housing, the threat of eviction is a constant fear. Even people who are renting legally can struggle to pay on time, fall into debt and risk eviction or exploitation by their landlords, at any moment.
Forced evictions are a violation of human rights and are often linked to the absence of security of tenure, an essential element of the right to adequate housing. This affects all areas of people's lives. It perpetuates a feeling of insecurity and a lack of trust between displaced persons and their host communities. Displaced families who have fled their homes are often forced to move several times and can lose access to assistance, jobs, schools and health care. It makes it harder to integrate into communities and to form vital support networks.
Discriminatory practices exclude women
NRC’s legal assistance programmes working with displaced communities in 20 countries including Afghanistan, the Central African Republic (CAR) and Colombia, have shown that internally displaced and returnee women are more likely than men to be evicted from their homes by family members. Women are more vulnerable to multiple forms of gender-based discrimination, in particular when they are female-headed and in poorer households, refugees or internally displaced, and/or members of ethnic or religious minorities.
Despite most national laws guaranteeing equality for women, the prevalence of customary laws and conservative social attitudes in many countries means that they can be evicted from their family homes when their husband dies or after divorce. For example, in Central African Republic widows often face difficulties when they return to their homes after conflict. After a woman’s husband dies, the family of the deceased may evict his widow, and in some cases also their children, from the marital home. The widow is expected to return to live with her parents or other remaining family.
Discriminatory practices which exclude women from inheritance and marital property have devastating consequences following displacement, when IDPs return to try to rebuild their lives. Research shows that when women have secure homes they are better able to support their families and find long-term solutions to their displacement.
Amina* returned to Kabul in 2005 with her husband and four children. Her husband purchased property in the city with his four brothers. After her husband´s death she struggled to support her family. Two of her children worked on the street as beggars and they were living in poor-quality housing. She was not able to get access to her husband's property. Amina approached NRC for help to claim the inheritance from her husband and a jirga was held with the brothers to decide. They ruled in Amina´s favour, explaining that she had a right to part of the property. The eldest brother paid in cash for Amina's share, giving her vital income that she could use to support her family.
*Not in photo
Three ways the humanitarian community can support displaced women's rights
- Measures must be put in place to ensure displaced and returnee women’s equal and effective participation in humanitarian shelter programmes.
- To prevent their security of tenure being dependent on their relationship with men, women must also be named in lease agreements and included as co-beneficiaries of shelter assistance.
- Displaced women at risk of eviction and/or involved in housing disputes must be provided legal assistance to claim their rights.
Even in the midst of conflict and crisis, humanitarians can bring about greater equality by challenging discriminatory laws and practices that undermine not only women and girls, but also the effectiveness of humanitarian aid.
* Names have been changed.
About the project:
In 2011, NRC embarked on a five-year initiative aiming to increase displaced women’s access to HLP rights through improved programming and advocacy. The project is based on NRC’s extensive operational experience, for over 15 years, as a provider of information, counselling and legal assistance (ICLA) related to HLP rights in 20 countries afflicted by conflict or recovering from it. Studies involving assessments of NRC’s legal cases and commissioned country research have been conducted in Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Côte d’Ivoire, Jordan, Lebanon, Liberia, Palestine (Gaza), South Sudan and with Colombian refugees in Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela.